It is known the evangelical legend: two disciples of Christ, shortly after his death, journey together on the burning roads of Galilee. On the way, they evoke the great figure of the vanished Master and recall the long succession of his miracles, the horror of his torture, the prodigy of his resurrection. Harassed with fatigue, they knock at the door of an inn and ask for food. Their weariness is mingled with a little discouragement. What will become of them now that the Master has gone? Will they see him again? They do not believe that the miracle is possible and, in their pain, they lament. And suddenly, at this table where they are, a gleam gushes forth, and Christ appears, seated between them, with His majestic and sweet face, as in the days when He lived among his disciples.
It is this scene, of a touching poetry, which Rembrandt has treated in the picture reproduced here. The painter chose the moment when the miracle had just taken place. Christ appeared and around him still floats that celestial light that preceded his coming.
In front of an X-shape table, covered with a tablecloth placed on a carpet, the Christ is seated, having next to him the two Pilgrims at Emmaus. A standing servant prepares to place on the table a dish full of food. The Man-God is clothed in a long robe that reveals under the table his legs and feet. Its head, haloed with a halo, is slightly inclined to the right; the long curls of her blonde hair fall on each side of her shoulders. In his hands he holds the bread which he breaks and blesses. The attitude and facial expressions of the pilgrims betray love, the happy surprise, the adoration of the disciples recognizing in their host their beloved Master. From a high window that it is not seen falls a delicate light that throws a golden glow on this evangelical episode; all the brilliance of it is concentrated, with a superior art, on the table where the miracle has just been accomplished. A master incomparable in the handling of chiaroscuro, Rembrandt animated his deepest shadows with a warm brightness that makes them transparent.
Rembrandt is not only an alchemist of color, a magician of light, a maker of pyrotechnic towers shooting, as they say, of the pistol shoots in the cellars; he possesses in the highest degree the human, religious and pathetic feeling. With forms sometimes common, trivial, lacking nobility as a drawing, for its color is always a rare distinction, he manages to express the most delicate nuances of the soul. What anointing, what majestic sweetness, what tenderness in this face of Christ, what depth of thought in his gaze! And as admiration is translated magnificently upon the rather vulgar traits of his disciples!
Few subjects have been as frequently interpreted as the legendary scene of the Pilgrims at Emmaus. The greatest masters have approached her, notably the Venetians, among them Titian and Veronese.
With this Venetian liberty which permitted all anachronisms, Titian was not afraid to introduce into his picture considerable figures of his time. Veronese, on the other hand, has his own wife, children playing, spaniels frolicking.
There can be no question here of comparing so different works. That of Titian is gravity, its composition is admirable and its coloring such as can be expected from this prestigious artist; in the picture of Veronese, everything is charming, graceful, of an adorable harmony and fantasy.
But among the painters of Venice, religious feeling is never very profound; we can guess that a revival of ideas and impressions has blown over this corner of the earth. To be truly Christian, their souls are too fond of the Oriental splendor brought by the Muslim feluccas into the great port of the Adriatic.
In the countries of the North, on the contrary, the faith remains very lively; the northern temperament felt more deeply the poetry of the Christian symbols; the gray sky, the sadness of the foggy days favors long dreams and encourages pious thoughts. So it was in the north that the religious scenes found their most sincere, if not their most eloquent interpreters.
And when, by a miracle, this mystical fervor guides a powerful hand like that of Rembrandt, when it seizes a soul of this caliber, a genius of this magnitude, the work that springs from this agreement at once reaches sublimity.
The Pilgrims at Emmaus belonged in the middle of the 18th century to Burgomaster Six of Amsterdam. At the sale which followed his death, the picture was awarded 170 florins. It was bought in 1770 by Louis XVI, at the sale of farmer Randon de Boisset, for a sum of 10,500 livres. It is now in the gre at gallery of the Louvre, on the span reserved for the works of Rembrandt.
Height: 0.68 – Width: 0.65 – Figures: 0.34.